A Polish tourist has been sentenced to five years in prison for treason in Indonesia for reputedly plotting with Papuan independence rebels in the country’s volatile far eastern region.

Jakub Skrzypski, 39, was arrested in Wamena in the easternmost Papua region in August last year and later accused of plotting against the Indonesian state, the reports said. He is the first foreign national ever to be convicted of treason, news reports said.

Papuan student Simon Magal, who met Skrzypski and contacted him on Facebook, was also jailed for four years on anti-state charges, the Associated Press reported. The region is home to the Free Papua Movement, which through disparate units has been fighting a war of independence against the Indonesian state since 1965.

West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), an armed wing of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM), has launched attacks on the Trans-Papua Highway. Photo: Facebook

In 2018, armed rebels linked to the movement killed 31 civilian construction workers in Papua’s Nduga area. The construction workers were building a part of the Trans-Papua Highway, a flagship infrastructure project of President Joko Widodo’s government.

Skrzypski was not linked to the attack and has denied plotting against the state, insisting throughout that he is a tourist. He claimed he did not receive a fair trial after his conviction, news reports said.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to speak in my defense or to present any favorable evidence. I reject the trial as well as the verdict,” he told the BBC in a text message. Latifah Anum Siregar, Skrzypski’s lawyer, said she would appeal against the decision.

Friends of Skrzypski who lived in Switzerland have said he’s an avid traveler who unwittingly got embroiled in Indonesian politics, news reports said.

Police initially accused Skrzypski of trying to set up an arms deal, but the charge was not pursued at the trial, reports said.

Skrzypski was traveling in Papua when he met members of the National Committee for West Papua, which claims to campaign non-violently for a referendum on independence.

A section of the still under construction Trans-Papua Highway. Photo: Ministry of Public Works
A road construction project in Papua, Indonesia. Photo: Ministry of Public Works Indonesia

The group is not outlawed but it is illegal to fly the Papua independence flag or to hold demonstrations that support a referendum, news reports said.

After his arrest, police accused Skrzypski of joining the West Papua National Liberation Army, one of several separatist organizations in the province.

Papua police spokesperson Suryadi Diaz said that authorities had gathered evidence that showed he was involved in arms trading. “He was involved in buying ammunition for them,” he told BBC Indonesia, without elaborating.

The Indonesian military and police have long been wary of foreigners making contact with Papuans. Foreign reporters are barred access to region while local publications have historically been infiltrated and influenced by state intelligence agencies, human rights groups have noted.

“The Skrzypski-Magal case is another example that the Indonesian government keeps blocking media access and deters independent reporting about Papua,” said Andreas Harsono, Indonesian representative for Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights group.